David Warren, our 13th century correspondent, checks in with a look at the quality of frothing hysteria on display in the 21st century:
I love phrases like “frothing hysteria.” They are so frothing, so hysterical. Over the weekend I heard this one from both sides of the current American Civil War. It hasn’t got to uniforms, yet — you can’t get people to dress properly, these days — but it has become obvious that the line is drawn between the Red and the Blue. I have mixed colours in my paintbox to produce to my satisfaction what might be called a “Trumpf Red” and an “Alinsky Blue.” Blood red was incidentally the old Tory colour, before the Communists stole it; Whigs were often sky blue; Yankee colour schemes are thus stuck in the eighteenth century. (Bravo!)
The breaking news is that the Left are freaking out. But this is an old story. They’ve been doing that for decades, whenever they don’t seem to be getting their way. It is part of the power formula, not only for them but for the average three-year-old. … “What do we want?” … “Goo-goos!” … “When do want them?” … “Now!”
Rather, the curious development through the recent American election is that the Right are freaking, too. The Left may not follow this because it isn’t covered in their electronic newspapers. They have really no idea what is going on, or has been going on — what bugs these people in the broad space between the several Left Coasts. Ever gracious, I told them that Trump was going to win, even though I didn’t much like the man myself; but they didn’t believe me. (Perhaps they don’t read my Idleposts!) They couldn’t imagine such a thing: like that great genius Pauline Kael, sainted expositor of leftishness and Hollywood movies, who could not understand how Nixon had won when everyone she knew had voted for McGovern.
Too, they reason — and gentle reader may mark my words on this — that they are up against the leftist tactic of concentrating all available forces on one target at a time. This always wins, against a dispersed, purely defensive enemy. Now the Bannon Brigade are counter-attacking on nineteen fronts, and counting. Let’s see how those, who haven’t played defence for a long long time, will handle it. My guess would be through an extremely incoherent Long Hot Summer.
Risky, risky, any counter-attack strategy. Capitulation is much safer. But sometimes you get sick of always losing, and resolve to try something new, by way of experiment; or in this case something old, that hasn’t been tried for a while, against opponents who have grown smug and self-satisfied.
For decades the Left have been playing for keeps. The Right have been playing for mercy. With Trump, those Red State types — “progressively” deprived of elementary freedoms, of their dignity, and even of their livelihoods — have voted to play for keeps, too. They were used to shrugging and taking their lumps, from politicians they happened to despise. The politicians were used to administering the lumps, to their own fabulous enrichment. Suddenly the simpletons — or deplorables, as they now prefer — decide they’ve had enough. (Americans can be like that sometimes.) Elitist and anti-populist that I am, anti-nationalist and anti-tribalist, I kind of understand it.
The media think only the Left can get angry, and that it is their exclusive right. They are making a splash of how angry they can get, on the old assumption that it will intimidate the simpletons. Yet this is the very assumption they have pushed too far. For Middle America is in one of those Clint Eastwood moods. And the cameras are rolling, on frothing and hysteria; versus “make my day.”
In a kinda-sorta-related post that Megan McArdle shared on Facebook, Brink Lindsey tries to advise the anti-Trump folks that they’re not going to weaken Il Donalduce by the tactics they’ve employed so far:
To all my FB friends who are alarmed after the first week of the Trump administration: we’re all trying to think about what to do, how to contribute, how to make a difference. Here’s something all of us can do, every single one of us: expunge all anger and hatred and contempt from the way we express our political disagreement with others.
Toxic partisanship, in which the other side is not simply disagreed with but demonized and effectively non-personed, has been building for some time now. Social media has turbo-charged the process. We have to start undoing it.
You have to tell yourself: I want to do good, not just feel good. Expressions of righteous indignation and calling out the other side are political masturbation. They feel great: condemnation of others is always implicit self-glorification. But they produce nothing — just defensive anger in return. What we need to do to Trump supporters isn’t hate on them, but persuade them to become ex-Trump supporters.
Instead of criticizing the other side, talk about what you both love: this country. Express your concern and sorrow about what’s going on, not your anger. Encountering your anger brings out your opponents’ aggressive defensiveness; encountering you sadness may bring out their empathy.
Give reasons for why you’re worried. None of this: it’s un-American, it’s unthinkable, this isn’t my country. That’s trying to shame your opponent, not trying to persuade them. To persuade someone you need to start with what you’ve got in common — you’ve got to concede that they genuinely have the country’s best interests at heart. And make it clear that’s where you’re coming from as well: genuine patriotic concern based on shared American ideals.
It seems absurd to say all this when all the incentives now, for both the political operators and the political spectators, are pushing in the opposite direction. But you’ve got to start somewhere. We can start by making things a tiny bit better every time we voice our opinion instead of making things a tiny bit worse.